CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Austin Christensen made the decision when he was only a freshman at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School that he would someday attend classes and play baseball at the University of Nebraska.
When the Cornhuskers officially made a scholarship offer just before Christensen’s junior year in the fall of 2009, it didn’t take him long to finalize that freshman decision.
“Yeah, it was very easy,” Christensen told Perfect Game last August. “I knew the whole time, if they offered, this was the where I was going to go.”
It did seem like a logical choice. Christensen’s older brother, Chad Christensen, became Nebraska’s starting shortstop as a freshman in Lincoln last season after signing with Cornhuskers out of Cedar Rapids Washington High School, and is currently enjoying an excellent sophomore season.
In addition to the brotherly connection, Austin Christensen – a left-handed pitcher and outfielder - also fell in love with the Lincoln campus after making several unofficial visits, so the simple fact of playing alongside his brother wasn’t the ultimate deciding factor.
“I always liked to play with Chad whenever we could, but going to different high schools we never really did that that much,” Christensen said while attending the Perfect Game Spring Top Prospect Showcase this weekend at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“But I really liked the school. I thought it fit me well, too; it wasn’t just all based on playing with my brother. I knew it was where I’d be happy, too.”
There was something else Christensen considered when choosing Nebraska: its relatively recent history of success at the national level and its membership in the Big 12 Conference, one of the nation’s elite college conferences.
The Cornhuskers advanced to the College World Series in 2001, ’02 and ’05, and started to assert themselves in a league that includes traditional national powers including Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
Christensen could envision numerous road-trips to college baseball hotbeds like Austin, Texas; College Station, Texas; and Norman, Okla., playing in front of thousands of fans in historic venues like UFCU Disch-Falk Field (Texas), Olsen Field (A&M) and L. Dale Mitchell Park (Oklahoma).
He now must envision road-trips to outposts such as Bloomington, Ind., and Evanston, Ill. Last year Nebraska left the Big 12 and joined the Big Ten Conference, and begins play in that league this fall.
The conference change might be a great move for the Huskers’ football program, but it doesn’t do a lot for the baseball program. The Big Ten is not a prominent baseball league.
Christensen insists he’s not disappointed.
“The Big 12 is a great conference, and when I originally committed I thought that’s where (the Cornhuskers) were going to be playing,” he acknowledged. “It’s not going to change my decision at all – I’m still really happy to go out to Lincoln and do the best that I can do.”
There is a lot of baseball to be played before Christensen ever slips on a Cornhuskers’ uniform.
He gave up basketball this past winter and spent the time off the court to work on things related to being on a baseball field.
“I knew I needed to really get stronger going into my senior year and going out to Nebraska next year,” Christensen said. “I spent a lot of time in the weight room and tried to do as much baseball stuff as I could, too. It’s tough to do all that in the winter in Iowa, (so) it’s whatever you can do in the (indoor) cages.”
Christensen is a veteran of 17 PG showcases and tournaments has played frequently in the PG Iowa spring and fall wood bat leagues.
He said he will spend the spring participating in as many PG events as possible – he plans to attend the PG Pre-Draft Showcase May 16 back at Perfect Game Field – while also working out with his high school team whenever they can get together and the weather cooperates.
Preseason practice for Iowa’s summer season begins May 2.
The summer season will be an important one for Christensen and his Kennedy High School teammates. Christensen comes into the 2011 campaign after helping the Cougars (32-10) to the Iowa Class 4A state championship. He was the winning pitcher of record in the state championship game.
Christensen was 9-4 with a 1.94 ERA in 15 appearances his junior season, with 86 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. He was even more impressive at the plate, hitting .492 with eight home runs, 44 RBIs and 35 runs – all team highs for the state champs.
At the weekend’s PG Spring Top, Christensen recorded one of the best outfield throw velocities at 89 mph.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of time this offseason and I think it was a good decision to have this winter to focus on baseball. I’m just feeling really good right now.”
There is something else Christensen will be keeping an eye on in the coming weeks: the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
He is a long-shot to be drafted this year, but he’s keeping an open mind.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I’m just going to go into it having a good attitude; if it happens then I’ll be happy with myself, but I’m also really excited about Nebraska, too. I’m just going to just have to wait and see.